Northern Highlands and ferry to Orkney

Pitlochry to Thurso

I woke up slowly this morning, had my breakfast and said my goodbyes to Alana and Maeve, my new Irish friends before checking out and walking the very short walk to the station. The train was 10 minutes late, and the controller took the time to say that he was going to get information on the platform, and advise the next train that we were 3 people going there.

View from the train on the way to Thurso
View from the train on the way to Thurso

Finally they were able to catch up and we arrived on time. I went to platform 5 quickly as I had only 1 minute in between trains. The train had just 2 wagons, but for some reason they were not (or at least I didn’t see it) marked which wagon was A and which one was B. My place being A14, I obviously entered in wagon B, and because the train was going to leave soon, I decided to walk inside instead of outside in case it would decide to leave while I was changing wagons! I found my seat in a very quiet wagon, and enjoyed the scenery until Thurso. It was sunny for most of the way, we met a lonely shower for about 2 minutes right before arriving. Tomek, my couchsurfing host had asked me to let him know when I would be a few minutes away, so I called him and he told me he would be able to pick me up, but might be a few minutes late. I was very happy to have a chance to get a ride, not that it was very far from the station, but because it was so much colder than I expected. The weather in itself was not that bad, but the wind!!! It looked like and felt like true north when I got out of the train!

Lovely sun and waves in Thurso
Lovely sun and waves in Thurso

Tomek arrived soon, and within minutes we were at his place. I was lucky enough to have my own room with double bed and all!! Tomek and I had dinner and we went to see if we could access the caves. Unfortunately, it was high tides, so we could not, but I got to see why it is a popular destination for surfing. The waves were great.

Small black and white lamb relaxing in the grass
My adorable new friend

He told me about a walk starting right behind the lighthouse. It was sunny so I decided to go. It was definitely worth it. I had my first close encounter with some sheep when I went through the first gate as a bunch of them were there with their babies. Adorable!!

Fence and a few steps to go over it
A few steps away from the sheep

I walked slowly through the first area, letting the sheep and little lambs enough time to move around so they would not feel threatened. I then made my way to the cliffs of Holborn Head. I enjoyed the view and the wind for a while before walking back to my house for the night.

Sitting on a flat rock, looking at the sea
Enjoying the view

Ferry to the Orkney Islands

The ferry from Thurso to Orkney actually leaves from a part of town called Scrabster, about 30 minutes walk from Thurso.

When I arrived at the ferry, I was following two girls with huge backpacks, so I assumed they were getting on the ferry, but no, they were just waiting with a bunch of people for the bus to the city. I was glad I asked right away as I could have waited for a long time! I made my way to the ticketing area, picked up my ticket and was told I could put my bag in a luggage storage, getting it back on the other side. I gladly obliged and went upstairs to the waiting area. I was the first one in.

The NorthLink ferry at an angle on the wave
The ferry, the day before I went on. the sea was much calmer during my crossing.

When we were allowed on the ferry, I kept going back and forth between the deck 5 and 6 (the only two allowed) as the 6th had the outside deck and the 5th had a lot less people in the sitting area. I enjoyed the waves and realized how much I had missed the open sea.

When I arrived in Stromness, I was a little worried about finding the hostel, but I soon realized that it is such a small place that there is no way I would have missed it!


Biking on Orkney

Once I put my bag down in the small three-bed dorm, I left to find Orkney Cycle Hire. I followed the main road, which changes names a few time, and found it easily even though it looked like somebody’s private yard. Three biked were parked there. Nobody was there, but I had received an email saying if they could not make it there would be a bike with my name on it and instructions for payment. Sure enough, there was a paper on one of the bikes with my name on it, the code for the lock, and a small brown envelope for money. It said on the paper 10 pounds per day. Having booked the bike for 2 days, I put £20 in the brown envelope and followed the instructions. I had to put the envelope in the mailing trap, on the brown door number 45. At that precise moment, it sure felt like I was in a small village!

I hoped on the bike and set off in the wrong direction. I had been hoping to talk to somebody or get a map about directions, but I was on my own. I decided to make the most of it, thinking that worst case scenario, I would end up biking around town, enjoying the view and the activity and best case scenario I would actually find my way!

lake with view of the sea and mountains in the distance
Not exactly where I was trying to go, but lovely view nonetheless

As I was leaving towards what would become the golf course, I wasn’t sure I was going to make it, but I found a viewpoint. I walked there, took a few pictures and got on the bike again. This time, I decided to follow the direction of most of the cars. I kept going uphill, and it was not easy. I found a brown sign saying something Brae, so I went up the stairs and up the never ending hill to an amazing view over the island. I had left my bike unlocked and was worried that it would not be there when I came back. Not because somebody would have taken it but because it was a hill and the bike could have easily gone downhill by itself.

selfie with the quiet small road in the background
Finally heading towards the Standing Stones

I finally decided to use my GPS on my phone to get an idea of the itinerary, which turned out to be very easy… main road until you see the signs and even the standing stones from the road…

Standing Stones of Stenness
Standing Stones of Stenness

Once I knew where I was heading to, it was going well. I got pretty comfortable on the bike, and it was mostly flat and downhill. I made my way to the Standing Stones of Stenness and the Barnhouse Neolithic Village. The ring is quite similar to Stonehenge, but might actually be older. It consists of 12 stones from 3000 years BC. The interesting fact about this ring is that archaeologist found what looked like the remains of a village dating approximately the same period. The Barnhouse Neolithic Village is a partly reconstructed Stone Age village dating 3000 BC.

A short walk away from the Standing Stones: the Barnhouse Neolitihc Village
A short walk away from the Standing Stones: the Barnhouse Neolithic Village

I walked around the stones first and then to the remains of the village before getting back on my bike to see another circle of stones; the Ring of Brodgar. This time the circle was much bigger. Unfortunately there were no interpretive sign over there, so I do not have much information on how, when and why this was built. It was originally a sixty stone circle with 36 now remaining as standing or as broken stones.

Some of the stones comprising the Ring of Brodgar
Some of the stones comprising the Ring of Brodgar

After this second short walk around the stone circle, I got back on the bike, and returned to Stromness. The road was not as easy as on my way there, partly because it was uphill, but mostly because I was getting very tired as it had been forever since I had last biked somewhere.

small road with water on both sides, leading to a white building with red roof
One of the easier sections of the road

3 thoughts on “Northern Highlands and ferry to Orkney”

  1. Ta mère nous a fait parvenir ton nouveau site et nous a informé que Sébastien venait de mettre un vidéo sur votre site.
    Bravo à vous deux !!

    Samedi matin nous irons bruncher avec Lise et Mado, et ensuite nous irons voir le nouvel appart de ta mère.
    Heureuse de voir que tu as l’air vraiment en forme et bien dans ta peau.
    Je suis revenue de Norvège avec une vilaine bronchite à la fin de juin, cela m’a pris 3 sem. avec antibiotiques et pompe à la cortisone pour être capable de respirer normalement. Ici au Québec, il pleut plusieurs fois par jour depuis juin, les gens sont écoeurés. Mais nous avons eu 3 belles soirées sans pluie et chaudes la semaine dernière…lundi, mardi, mercredi… nous avons veillé sur une terrasse 2 soirs avec des amis. C’était enfin l’été.. mais Mado et Viateur l’ont manqué puisqu’ils étaient à Sept-Iles.

    Au plaisir de te lire maintenant que je connais ton nouveau site.

    a+ Doris

    1. Merci Doris!
      Je vais continuer à publier mes nouveaux articles ici, alors reviens régulièrement!
      À bientôt!

  2. Hi!!

    I’ve found your photos and I think they are very beautiful. Probably I’ll use the one of the Ring of Brodgar to put it in my studio.


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